book review: ryan adams: losering, a story of whiskeytown (david menconi)

caitlin cary & thad cockrell

It would take thousands upon thousands of pages — an encyclopedia of pages — to document the full history of the Triangle music scene, as it would for any scene with bands, labels, and clubs as legendary and venerable as the Triangle has. (Some day, I am convinced I will see Michael Stipe in the Cave, a venue that helped launched R.E.M.’s career, and I will pee on myself.) But over the last few years, people have started to grab chunks and tease that history out on the page, putting it down for eternal memory; it started with the 20th Merge anniversary book Our Noise, and it continues with longtime Raleigh News & Observer music writer David Menconi’s 2012 book about Ryan Adams, Whiskeytown, and the imprint that Adams made and left on Raleigh music in specific and North Carolina music in general.

And Losering is wonderful; Menconi was, in fact, along with Ross Grady, one of the first writers on the ground about Ryan Adams, and Losering is part oral history, part Menconi memoir, part Adams biography, and for all the bridges Ryan burned in Raleigh, all love story, in its own way, complete with its own breakup and happy / sad ending.

There wasn’t anything I didn’t love about this book. It’s eminently readable, for one thing, full of funny stories and good editing and Menconi’s elephantine memory and archives. And it’s an honest look at the fact that Adams was not entirely beloved in the Triangle, far from it, even before he fled Raleigh with all the flames of all those bridges behind him, which is common knowledge that’s not necessarily spoken out loud. I loved this book because it isn’t just Whiskeytown and Adams; it’s about the Triangle, too, and the framing history of what was happening in Chapel Hill (Mammoth Records, the birth of Merge, the Squirrel Nut Zippers’ platinum hit with “Hell”) as it almost because “the next Seattle” was as fascinating to me as all of the crazy Ryan stories were. I loved hearing from Rob Miller and Nan Warshaw of my beloved Bloodshot Records; I adored Rhett Miller’s stories about the 97s bizarre “feud”, manufactured entirely by Ryan as a career move, with Whiskeytown.

(Is “New Kid” really about Ryan Adams? We may never know. But my guess is that it is, and that’s fucking hilarious.)

Ryan hasn’t lived in Raleigh in more than a decade; he hasn’t even played in Raleigh since 2005. If the Avett Brothers are still ours, despite their national profile, Ryan stopped being North Carolina’s a long time ago. It doesn’t matter, though, because what he did, the things he said and the music he made and the tantrums he threw and the friendships he made and torched and made again, those things are still North Carolina’s. Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown were instrumental in shaping the scene here as we know it, and Menconi takes that, respects it, and writes it as a wonderful story that isn’t happy, but is truthful, and fascinating.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. This is absolutely getting bought (next month!).

    1. You will really enjoy it, and it’s a super quick read – I tore through it in two days.

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